DALLAS – With 11:31 remaining in the second quarter of Saturday’s playoff game between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder, the game turned not-so-surprisingly ugly.
No fists were thrown, but American Airlines Center security and ushers – along with Mavs coaches – rushed over near the Thunder bench where a near melee was on the verge of happening. That’s what the series has unfortunately come to.
The discord was ignited when Mavs rookie center Salah Mejri went chasing for a loose ball that landed in the hands of OKC guard Anthony Morrow, who was sitting on the bench. As Mejri was attempting to get the ball from Morrow, Westbrook intervened from the end of the bench, and J. J. Barea and Ibaka also joined in.
A few trash talking remarks and stare downs later, and a bevy of security personnel, referees, ushers and Mavs coaches were all rushing near Oklahoma City’s bench trying to clam everyone down.
The nastiness, trash talking and overly physical play continued all the way until the final minute of the game when OKC superstar Kevin Durant was accessed a Flagrant Type 2 foul and automatically ejected form the game for a hard foul around the neck of Mavs rookie Justin Anderson.
Durant and Anderson attended the same Montrose Christian High School in Rockville, MD, and are casual friends. So Durant texted Anderson after the game and apologized.
"I texted him and told him I wasn’t trying to hurt him at all,’’ said Durant, who suffered his second career ejections. "There are plenty of plays this season where I’ve blocked shots from behind like that and it’s just unfortunate that I hit him over the head.
"It was a flagrant even though I wasn’t intentionally trying to foul him, but the refs had to make a decision and they made the right one. It was just bad timing and I wasn’t trying to hurt him.’’
Dirk Nowitzki, himself clocked in the face by Serge Ibaka, didn’t seem to mind most of the over the top physical play.
"There were a few bad plays, but other than that I thought it was pretty clean,’’ Nowitzki said. "Obviously both teams go hard, and when both teams crash the glass there are going to be confrontations.’’
Nowitzki was wondering what Durant was even doing in the game at the time of his flagrant foul. OKC was ahead 115-1104 with 50.6 seconds remaining in a game they eventually won 119-108 when Durant was ejected.
"They were up double digits with under a minute to go,’’ Nowitzki said. "I thought that was unnecessary,
"Everything else was just in the flow of the game. I don’t think anything else was bad, but that (Durant) foul was just not necessary at all.’’
Whether or not coach Rick Carlisle had any thoughts on Durant’s foul, or on any of the physical play, he wasn’t sharing it with the media.
"I’m not commenting in the extracurricular physical activity in the series,’’ Carlisle said. "I’m sure the league office is looking at all that stuff in high definition.’’
Thunder coach Billy Donovan obviously sided with Durant, who, a day after Game 3, was accessed a technical foul by the NBA for elbowing Mejri in the chest.
"I think he felt terrible, he felt bad,’’ Donovan said. "He said to me, ‘I didn’t mean to do that, and it’s not what I wanted to do.’
"And I felt bad for Kevin, because I don’t think he’s probably ever been thrown out of a game in his entire life.’’
Already riddled with injuries, the Mavs lost point guard Deron Williams (aggravated left abdominal strained) and Mejri (strained hip flexor) in Saturday’s game. And Carlisle doesn’t think he’ll have Williams, who also missed Game 3, any more this season.
"I think he’s done for the year,’’ Carlisle said. "That’s what I think.
"I don’t expect him to play in Game 5.’’
The Mavs trail this best-of-seven series, 3-1, and their backs are clearly up against the wall. Only nine teams in NBA history have climbed back from a 3-1 hole to win a best-of-seven series, with the Houston Rockets last doing it last season to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.
But if the Mavs plan on becoming the 10th team to accomplish this maddening feat, they’re going to have to rebound better than they did Saturday, when they lost that battle, 42-33. Oklahoma City also out-muscled the Mavs in second-chance points, 18-7, and outscored them in fast break points, 19-10.
In other words, the Mavs know they had way too many breakdowns to upend a team the caliber of Oklahoma City.
"We talk about staying close enough, staying in striking range so that once the fourth quarter comes we are close enough to make a run,’’ said Nowitzki who scored 27 points in 40 minutes.
"But they hit us with waves and every time we get it down to eight or 10, we don’t come up with a loose ball or we don’t make it off a rebound and it just piles up. Every time we are fighting and gaining momentum and the crowd gets into it, but the Thunder did a great job of stopping our momentum, so give them credit – they came in here and stole two games on our home court.’’
And now the series shifts back to Oklahoma City. A place where the Mavs still believe they have a fighting chance to get this series back to Dallas on Thursday for a Game 6.